Tigers are all of these, yet they remain critically endangered.
Did you know that in 1900, more than 100,000 tigers roamed over most of the Asian continent? Today, that number is fewer than 4,000, after their habitat has declined by 93%.
As a tiger mascot university, Clemson University is leading the fight to save these wild animals. Clemson is the founding member of the Tigers United University Consortium, a group of four tiger mascot, land-grant institutions dedicated to saving tigers in the wild. The other universities are Auburn University, Louisiana State University and University of Missouri.
At Clemson University, concern over the declining number of tigers in the wild runs deep. The tiger is a powerful symbol of our University and, along with the tiger paw, helps bind us together as students, alumni and fans. It lies at the heart of Tiger Nation! What would happen to our pride, culture and identity, if we stood by while our mascot became extinct?
“Every day, thousands upon thousands of Clemson students, alums and fans greet each other by saying, ‘Go Tigers!’ What will we say when they’re gone?” said Dr. Brett Wright, director of the Tigers United University Consortium.
When Clemson University President James Clements became the University’s 15th president in 2014, he signed an agreement with the Global Tiger Forum (secretariat to the 13 tiger-range countries) to support the Global Tiger Recovery Program. Then, in 2017, he appointed Dr. Wright as director.
Since then, Wright and the Tigers United team have established a strong foundation for the Consortium and advanced the organization’s mission by focusing on four key pillars — education, research, technology transfer and outreach and awareness. We have made great strides on each area of focus.
We are excited to announce the launch of our Team up for Tigers elementary education program this spring. The program aims to teach elementary-aged students about biological facts on tigers; help them understand their plight and what they can do to help save wild tigers. The program offers four modules with five lessons in each. Educators and parents, alike, can use the lessons for an entire week or individually.
“We are proud of this education program and excited to see how the next generation will take up the conservation cause and fight for wild tigers,” said Rachelle Beckner, project coordinator. The program is located on the Tigers United website (www.tigersunited.org) and available for anyone to download.
Research is at the heart of Tigers United’s mission. Currently, Tigers United supports seven Ph.D. students from India. The four universities committed nearly $2 million to support the development of the Consortium infrastructure and leadership, and to initiate our Ph.D. program for emerging tiger conservation professionals. The program design calls for the students to conduct their doctoral research at sites important to tiger conservation in India. Monies to complete this phase were committed in 2019 and will run through 2023, when the Ph.D. candidates are expected to complete their studies.
While each Ph.D. student has dedicated their studies to different aspects of tiger conservation, they share a common passion for saving this apex species. “The tiger is a representation of power and a vigorous ecosystem. As the national animal of India, the tiger has always enthralled me with its marvelous power,” said Anam Ahsan, who is completing her studies at Missouri.
“To me, the tiger is a mascot for motivation and a character of victory. I always wanted work on tiger conservation as a wildlife ecologist and as a GIS professional during my academic years,” she said. “I have a strong attachment to understanding their ecology and movements in corridors and residual forest patches to help preserve them in human-dominated and fragmented landscapes of India.”
The research our Ph.D. students and their faculty sponsors conduct can have a lasting impact on tiger conservation efforts and land management in the 13 tiger range countries. One such way this work, paired with the existing knowledge and expertise of officials in the native lands, is to create a landscape level conservation plan. Tigers United hopes to create such a plan after gathering different pieces of data from various sources, including local villagers, homeland tiger conservation officials, water management, transportation plans and more. These data are then transposed into one plan to create a multi-layer approach to discovering the best method to protect tigers in the wild. While the plan is proposed for a specific area, it can be adapted to other tiger range countries. Rob Baldwin, an endowed chair and profession in Clemson’s conservation biology program, is the lead scientist on the plan.
“Landscape level planning for tigers insures that the people who live with tigers have a voice in how the land is managed and that the most important places are set aside, while still allowing for the local people to make a living,” Baldwin said. “Clemson students are working closely with Indian conservationists and local residents to build and test models for landscape-level cooperation using mapping software, studies of tiger ecology, and social sciences”
Technology transfer is the final pillar for Tigers United. This is a key component of our mission that focuses on taking existing technology or newly developed technology to improve conservation efforts in the field. Tigers United recently entered into a partnership with RESOLVE, a nonprofit dedicated to deploying sustainable solutions to critical social, health and environmental challenges by creating innovative partnerships, where they are least likely and most needed.
To that extent, Tigers United is delighted to partner with RESOLVE to develop a state-of-the-art camera trap system that uses artificial intelligence to accurately record data concerning wild tigers around the world. Eric Dinerstein, a wildlife scientist and Resolve Director of Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions program, is spearheading this work and approached Tigers United as a partner for the synergy between the organizations.
This new design should increase accuracy of animal identification and improve the battery life of the camera significantly, cutting costs.
Tigers United is proud to support the development of this innovative camera system. This technological development will further advance our mission of tiger conservation in all tiger range countries.
We’ve already discussed some of our outreach and awareness efforts with our new elementary education program, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the national exposure Tigers United received during the National Championship College Football Game in January 2020. The Louisiana State University (LSU) tigers defeated the Clemson University tigers on the football field, with a final score of 42-25 in the game. While the two teams are fierce competitors on the field, off the field the two universities work collaboratively to save their mascot.
The Tiger vs. Tiger matchup provided a great platform to shine a spotlight on the endangered tiger population and the multiple threats they still face from poaching and habitat loss. There are currently less than 4,000 wild tigers on the planet. Tigers are the most popular mascot; they are revered in some cultures and prominent in popular culture.
The College Football Playoff National Championship game set the stage to feature Tigers United as both Clemson and LSU highlighted ways the schools collaborate. Tigers United was featured in both local and national media outlets, including: The Chronical of Higher Education, ESPN, WYFF Channel 4 in Greenville, S.C., The Greenville News, WRBZ Channel 2 in Baton Rouge, La. and Discovery. On that January night, thousands yelled “Go/Geaux Tigers” in support of their team. In the end, the true winner of the championship game was the wild tiger.
You can learn more about Tigers United and download resources, including our 2020 annual report and the elementary education program, at our website, www.tigersunited.org If you’d like to financially support tigers conservation, you can text CUtigers to 41444.